Reality fighter

Sep 17
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Co-owner of Little Rock gym competes on Spike TV show.

Rolando "Roli" Delgado is Little Rock's newest reality TV star.

Following on the heels of local designer Korto Momolu's appearance on Project Runway, Delgado, co-owner of Little Rock's Westside Kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is one of 32 mixed martial artists from around the world to take part in Spike TV's eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir. The winner of the contest will sign a six-figure contract with The Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The fighters will be pared down to 16 during the first two weeks of the show, as they face off against each other using jiu-jitsu, judo, muay thai, karate, boxing and wrestling in elimination matches. The remaining contestants move into The Ultimate Fighter House, where they live together, train and fight one another to be the winner of the six-week show. The reality TV show is one of Spike's most popular programs, bringing in an estimated 2 million viewers each week.

Delgado, 27, is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He was 15 when he moved to Arkansas. Shortly thereafter, he started training at Westside under Matt Hamilton, who co-owns the gym.

A fan of the show, Delgado sent in a videotape of himself and then tried out for the show in April in Boston. During tryouts, 500 fighters from around the globe were interviewed and engaged in one-on-one, two-minute sessions of submission wrestling and mitt work in front of a panel of judges. Seventy-five fighters advanced to the second stage.

The 75 fighters were then flown to Las Vegas in May and subjected to a series of medical and personality tests. Thirty-two finalists emerged and were flown back to Las Vegas, where they were sequestered in hotel rooms sans telephones and contact with the outside world as they prepared to fight one another to gain entrance to the house. Food was room service, and fighters were allowed outside their rooms only to train.

After four days of isolation, Delgado squared off against his opponent for a key to The Ultimate Fighter House.

"It was different," he said. "When I got into the cage I knew that the fight was going to be seen by 2 million people. It didn't feel like reality TV. It didn't feel like The Real World. It felt like a fight in front of 2 million people."

Delgado can't reveal the outcome and whether he gained entrance to the house, but he said he walked away with a new-found appreciate for his support staff and students at Westside.

"Being self-sufficient out there was the most challenging thing I've ever done. Mentally it was tough," he said.

Delgado's wife was pregnant with the couple's first child at the time, and Delgado told producers that if his wife went into labor he was leaving the show to be by her side. Luckily, the show ended before Rolando Delgado IV was born Sept. 2.

"It was definitely cool," he said. "Coming from a gym in the middle of nowhere - and Little Rock is the middle of nowhere when it comes to mixed martial arts - it was really cool. Just to accomplish being on the show. I feel as though I started a lot of other opportunities for people at the gym."

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